Dialing back the buoyancy and bombast of the celebrated trio of albums that preceded it, Frightened Rabbit turns to a more graceful sound on Painting Of A Panic Attack. This latest project finds the veteran Scottish band at its most somber and direct, with a dozen songs that trace the group’s way through existential and often familiar struggles and an ever-present search for a way to rise above that difficulty.
The title comes from a lyric in the album opener “Death Dream,” in which reverberating piano chords hang like an impressionistic painting as frontman Scott Hutchison sings of fear, disappointment, and the steady march of age.
The subject matter continues in that realm, conveyed both subtly within the lyrics and in broad, frank strokes in song titles like “I Wish I Was Sober,” “Woke Up Hurting,” “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” and “Die Like A Rich Boy.” The tightly layered production from Aaron Dessner (of The National) gives a claustrophobic edge in sound that matches Hutchison’s lyrics.
Credit Frightened Rabbit for trying its hand at harnessing a darker magic, moving musically in parallel with the lyrics to creating a more ornate and delicate beauty. But that subdued soundscape is ultimately a move that sacrifices a bit of the power that made the band so great to begin with. In contrast to Frightened Rabbit’s 2013 major-label debut Pedestrian Verse, which tiptoed to the edge of grandiosity, Painting Of A Panic Attack is a pensive, internally focused album. Nor does the album reach for the boldness of 2010’s The Winter Of Mixed Drinks or the uplifting, raw spirit of 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight.
Perhaps because Painting Of A Panic Attack is built to emphasize a sense of gradually rising pressure, it’s not until Hutchison and the band take a defiantly energetic turn—on the aptly named “Break”—that the album begins to take flight. Most of the other best moments also come when energy boils over, on the pulsating lead single “Get Out” and the second half of the slowly building “Lump Street.”
The album’s chief strength comes from the humanity in Hutchison’s lyrics. In terms of words alone, this is perhaps Frightened Rabbit’s strongest and most consistent batch of songs. Blended with the disappointments is an indomitable resolve that sounds familiar from Hutchison’s past, but it emerges here in a more pointed and powerful way.
Still, there remains the sense that the band is holding back, tentative to call on the raucous exuberance that has characterized Frightened Rabbit’s best work. A lonely and haunted record, Painting Of A Panic Attack doesn’t soar like much of Frightened Rabbit’s catalog, instead taking its time to explore the mind’s darker inner rooms. But on an album that patiently and almost painfully builds tension, the songs could use more in the way of catharsis.